Oxfordshire County Council has lost half of the £600,000 in emergency funding it was due to receive from the Department for Transport (DfT) to improve its cycling and walking routes.

In an email to councillors, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for transport, Yvonne Constance revealed that the Council will only receive £298,500 of the original £597,000 allocated to it from the DfT. The funding was specifically designated for emergency projects to promote socially-distanced cycling and walking as restrictions begin to ease on the lockdown measures.

In the email, seen by The Oxford Blue, Constance told councillors that the Council’s “focus on distributing the investment equitably across the county, rather than targeting it solely on urban centres, had clearly been a factor in the DfT’s decision.”

Constance defended the Council’s plans in the email, adding; “we strongly believe that our approach of boosting active and sustainable travel options for all our residents – whether they live in a town, village or city – is the right one.”

The email also includes a link to Oxfordshire County Council’s website page regarding ‘Active Travel’, though as of 9am on the 2nd of July this still features the £600,000 figure.

In a tweet, Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council’s Deputy Leader and Green Transport cabinet member described the news as a “massive blow”, but confirmed that the loss in funding will not affect any of the cycling or walking projects already agreed upon between Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

The first phase of action regarding cycling and walking routes will include implementing improved signage and road markings as well as changing signal timings to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, Constance stated in the email that, “130 bike racks are being delivered this week for installation in park and rides, Oxford city centre and market towns across the county.” 

In a scathing criticism on Facebook, the Liberal Democrat Councillor John Howson, described the halving of funding as a “fiasco” and attacked “the inability of the Conservative councillors to understand a simple set of instructions”. Howson argued that whilst DfT suggestions for the funding included pop-up bike lanes and wider pavements, the Council’s plans of line-painting and hedge-cutting were “lacklustre”.

The Lib Dem councillor added, “Despite numerous suggestions proposed by councillors of all stripes, the Conservative controlled council opted to try and use the funds to cover a range of standard maintenance tasks.”

In response, Councillor Constance told The Blue that she did not agree with Councillor Howson’s assessment, arguing instead that the council is not alone in receiving reduced funding, and that the “DfT declared no criteria for this funding but required councils to commit and start projects within 4 weeks and complete within 8 weeks.” She added that the Council does “not lack ambition” and that “As our plan includes work in our budget, all [proposals under phase 1] will be completed as programmed.” 

Meanwhile, plans are being drawn up for the second phase of the project, which has already been allocated £2.3m in funding. These plans include additional bicycle parking in locations such as Cowley, Headington and Summertown, as well as creating additional road space for pedestrians and cyclists on Abingdon Road. Councillor Constance stressed in her email to councillors that this phase requires significant funding in order to “make a significant difference to communities across the county, even if the cost of these plans is greater than the indicative £2.3million we have been allocated for tranche two.”

Councillor Hayes has been reached for comment. 

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) was formerly Environment News Editor and Climate Columnist at The Blue. He is in his final year studying History and Politics at Balliol.